Linda Breneman

Writer, editor, speaker

What do fictional robots mean to us? They’re depositories for our fears about technology. Of course they are. But I think they’re mostly a way for us to look at ourselves–our own brains, our own consciousness, and our own societies and cultures.

Who can forget the evil robots of fiction? The HAL 9000. The Replicants of Bladerunner. Skynet. They’re terrifying because they don’t care about us. All they want is to kill us before we kill them.

But I’m more interested in the fictional robots that are more like us–the robots who invite us to see ourselves more clearly. Like the Software Objects in Ted Chiang’s “The Lifecycle of Software Objects,” who are raised with tender care by the best of their human caretakers–or forgotten and abandoned by caretakers who aren’t so devoted. Or, like the companion robot Klara in Ishiguro’s Klara and the Sun, a creature so sincere and filled with goodwill, she puts most humans to shame. Or the sweet android Carey, Martin L. Shoemaker’s protagonist in Today I Am Carey, a creature who values family relationships above everything.

Fictional robots give us a chance to view humanity from an outsider’s perspective, and sometimes they give us something like a higher form of humanity to aspire to.

Imaginary Science

A few weeks ago, I was privileged to have lunch with a writer I greatly admire, Ted Chiang. He’s the guy who wrote the story behind the film “Arrival.” Yeah. Wow, huh?

The story, as you might expect, is even more wonderful than the movie. And his story collection, “Stories of My Life and Others” is an absolute gem. All of Ted’s stories are fascinating and beautifully written.

At lunch, he mentioned that he was just back from giving a speech. The speech, he said, was about the difference between magic and imaginary science.

That line intrigued me so much that it found its way into a story I was writing. The story is a flash fiction called “Forever Letter,” and it’s on Del Sol Review, and online magazine that’s full of wonderful flash fiction and essays.

“Forever Letter” is a tribute to the couples who manage to stay together for a lifetime, and it explores ideas about the nature of time, reality, and love.

What I’m working on

The other day I was talking to my daughter Lisa, who is an animator and visual artist, and an all-around cool person. I was talking about how hard it is to sustain your energy and passion as an individual artist slogging away every day. She said she always has four projects going at once–if she doesn’t feel like working on the animation, she works on a painting or a comic.

I said I thought that made a lot of sense.

So I started working on a bunch of short stories and flash fiction pieces in between working on my novel, a speculative fiction thing about a woman who tests virtual reality games and gets caught up in an inter-dimensional battle.

I’ve been writing at least one new flash fiction each week. What do you do to keep your creative juices flowing?




Recent Reading

What do Jennifer Egan, Jeffrey Eugenides, and Colum McCann have in common? Besides the fact that they’re all kick-ass novelists, literary novelists, important novelists, award-winning novelists?  They’ve all written books recently that are what used to be called linked short stories.  They are novels in story form.  The stories vary in voice and point of view, but they all examine a sweep of time and place and character.  Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad, a Pulitzer winner, is about a group of people loosely connected by music, friendships, and family ties.  Jeffrey Eugenides book, The Marriage Plot, follows a group of college students as they graduate and scatter.  And Colum McCann’s book, Let the Great World Spin, peeks at New Yorkers who saw the man who danced on a highwire between the World Trade Center Towers in 1974.

It’s interesting that all these contemporary writers are reinventing the novel in a similar way.  We seem to need to look at the same events from different angles, from the points of view of women and men and the old and the young.  And we delight in finding the connections between the characters.

I like this trend.  It seems to capture both the fragmented nature and the exploding connections that characterize our days.

I’m a writer in Seattle specializing in essays and fiction about games, learning, and philanthropy.